Power in Numbers

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PUZZLES & CAMO BY SHELLY HUHTANEN

Not only are we more powerful in numbers, we are more powerful when we use our voices.

Regardless of one’s political views, no one can deny the concept of power in numbers. While some of us feel that our nation is falling apart or that we are in distress, a fellow advocate of mine could not disagree more and couldn’t put it more eloquently, “Our nation is not under distress. I couldn’t be more proud to be an American as I am right now because I see democracy at work. If you don’t like what you see, then show your voice. Thank goodness I live in a nation where I can do that.” After hearing her opinion, she forced me to really think about where we are as a nation and why it’s so important to talk about issues that are passionate to us.

Not only are we more powerful in numbers, we are more powerful when we use our voices. If we are consistently discussing issues that are important to us and they stay in the forefront of our minds, then there is still hope for change. Passion for people with disabilities should be a gift and be shown in every possible encounter in order to change the way society sees them and us, as the caregiver.

Sharing my experiences raising our son with autism has not only altered perspectives in our  neighborhood or schools, but also close to home. Broden has changed my father’s perspective on how he sees children with different abilities. One morning, he told me he saw a girl in a wheelchair that appeared to have a form of cerebral palsy. She could not move her legs or arms, but she could smile. Before Broden’s diagnosis, my father said he probably would not have felt a connection with this little girl and might have continued to read his magazine of choice in the hospital waiting room, but this time it was different. He spent the entire time she was waiting on her mother trying to make her smile and giggle. He had her complete attention and he found himself more drawn to making her happy. When the little girl left, her mother came over to my father and thanked him. Not only did he make that little girl smile, but he made her mother’s day too. There is power in numbers. Broden touched my father’s life and in turn, he touched two more.

This weekend Mark, my husband, and I spent the afternoon in the ER because our son decided to dismantle Mark’s hearing aides. As we frantically ripped apart our bedroom to try and piece together what was left of them, we finally succumbed to the fact that Broden had possibly ingested one of the small batteries. We could not find it anywhere. Instead of gambling with the idea of him throwing it down the toilet or throwing it across the room, we made the trek to the ER to get an X-ray to see if he, in fact, ingested the battery.

We prepared ourselves with the typical ER visit with Broden, explaining autism and his sensory  issues to every person we came in contact with in the hospital. After being surprised to be called back to a room after 10 minutes of waiting, we learned that possibly digesting a battery is a pretty big deal. After the ink debacle, Broden had broken us in and we were probably more calm than we should have been.

After coaxing Broden into his room and convincing him that no one would be poking him with needles, a woman walked in, identifying herself as the nurse practitioner. Right away, we went into our story, defending ourselves as parents and explaining Broden’s autism. I was rationalizing to her why Mark would leave his hearing aids on his dresser and how he would never do it again. They would, from now on, be under laser security or lock and key.

The nurse practitioner walked up to Broden and started to talk to him and then smiled, “I have a son who is 12 years old with severe autism. I know exactly why you’re here and you should be here. Let’s get him an X-ray and check it out.” Mark and I looked at each other and sighed. Thank goodness. What I admired about her the most was her educating the medical professionals that visited our room. She used her voice to spread awareness and to explain to the other nurses and doctors about pica and the sensory issues with autism. It was comforting for Mark and I to not be the only voices in the room being heard. Yet again, power in numbers. •

PUZZLES & CAMO
16Shelley Huhtanen is an Army wife with two children, one with autism, whose husband is currently stationed at Fort Benning, GA. She is an autism advocate and currently the parent liaison for the Academy for Exceptional Learners.